(Note: This was previously published May 2017. I have edited the rankings to reflect the new trailer released since then.)
A new Star Wars trailer is here! A new Star Wars trailer is here!
Ahem, excuse my delirium.
Honestly, when “The Last Jedi” teaser trailer dropped, I was perhaps more intrigued than flabbergasted. As my better half stated, “There’s a lot to unpack there.” And there always is, which makes the release of any new Star Wars trailer always a fun occasion.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time here analyzing the thing … pretty much any nerd with the ability to pause and an encyclopedic knowledge of Wookiepedia is going to do a better job of that than me anyway.
No, I’m falling back into my comfort zone of rankings.
Here, without further buildup, are my picks for the 10 best trailers (including teasers) in the history of Star Wars. (I will edit this list as new trailers are released.)
10. “Revenge” of the Jedi trailer
The novelty of the trailer having the wrong title earns a bunch of points with me. But beyond that, this trailer emerges as the best of a cheesy lot from the original films. Products of their time, they all struggle to elicit an emotional response in comparison to today’s better cut offerings. This one succeeds as a tease following the previous films by showing new, mostly finished footage and overlaying the Imperial March (always a good decision) with the onscreen appearance of Darth Vader. I support it.
9. Rogue One final trailer
The music in the final Rogue One trailer works extremely well, and that is a huge factor in how well a trailer does its job (at least for me). I love the framing device at the beginning with Jyn in prison waking from a dream, and the “Save the dream!” line at the end is iconic. It also doesn’t lose points for a dorkily integrated Vader like the previous trailer does. I mostly hate those kinds of tags on trailers; they rarely work. Here, they fold him into things in a natural way. Much better.
8. The Phantom Menace teaser
You know what’s funny about the prequel trailers? They all work much better in smaller doses, with the teasers being mostly amazing and the longer trailers feeling bloated. (Cue prequel jokes now.) This bad boy scratched a major itch for thirsty fans, with so much fascinating new imagery for them to digest. The standout visual was of course Darth Maul lighting up BOTH ends of his lightsaber hilt. Nutso moment for the time.
7. Star Wars 1997 re-release trailer
The x-wing flies out of the television at you, sucking you into wanting to see this movie in the theaters again (and in some cases, again and again and…). The new added scenes at the time looked fascinating as well. There was the weird unknown factor to it that added anticipation: How were they going to change our films? Some fans wouldn’t like the answers to that question, but it was undeniably successful marketing at the time. Hey, it got me (and many others) into the theater at least.
6. Rogue One teaser
Okay, so this one went full Inception with a loud ominous sound repeating through the trailer to build tension, and while that’s a mostly tired trope at this point, it really, really works well here. As the classic Star Wars alarm sounds, we have a dramatic reading from Saw Gerrera and some great imagery, including some stuff that is pre-established as being iconic (AT-ATs and Yavin!) and some cool new twists, like the Imperial (Krennic) in white and Death Troopers. Just a great blend of new and familiar, presented in an urgent way.
5. The Last Jedi trailer
With more “wow” moments than the previously released teaser, this trailer not only knocks the old teaser out of the rankings, it also shoots up the list quite a bit. Yeah, we’re still dealing with misdirection here, but if you know that going in, it can actually enhance the experience. Hey, no spoilers if you can’t trust what you’re seeing, right? This gets the creative juices flowing (“What does it all mean?”), but for me, it’s the music and the Kylo/Leia interplay that really makes the whole thing work. That and they didn’t have any sloppy edits at the end tag like so often happens. Great trailer!
4. The Force Awakens teaser
I’ve read some criticism of this one, and I don’t get it. It felt new and fresh at the time (and a little ominous), which might have been scary to some … until that fabulous money shot of the Falcon at the end. “Chewy, we’re home,” in the following trailer just didn’t grab me in the same way (fwiw, that trailer barely missed my top 10 … I think it didn’t make it primarily because it didn’t reveal much more than this teaser had). Anyway, Finn popping up from out of frame with that panicked look on his face remains one of my favorite visuals, and I’m still a little sad they didn’t use that fabulous Kylo lightsaber image in the movie itself. And I LOVE the voiceover. It really “awakened” my fandom again, and for that alone I’m thankful.
3. Attack of the Clones “breathing” teaser
After what for many was a kiddie-themed disappointment in The Phantom Menace, I think several fans were prepared to throw George Lucas a mulligan for the previous film, but also ready for things to start getting “real” in this one. I came at it from a similar direction; I felt urgency that we needed to start connecting to the original trilogy soon after Part 1 did basically nothing of the kind (it introduced some key players, and well, that was about it). The use of Vader’s breathing intercut with tribal drums basically did Inception before Inception did Inception, but with the extreme advantage of using a tremendously iconic and evocative sound in the process. This trailer promised an impending darkness, which is what these films were really all about: Where did Vader and the Empire come from? The ultimate success of Attack of the Clones is debatable, but also irrelevant to these rankings; this teaser is spectacular.
2. Revenge of the Sith teaser
Talk about blending the old with the new! Tapping into the same impulse present amongst fans before Attack of the Clones (i.e. “Let’s start connecting with the old movies, please!”), the Revenge of the Sith trailer opens with Alec Guiness’ dialogue from the original films talking about the “dark times.” He narrates over imagery we’ve already seen until the huge reveal, Anakin with Sith eyes. From there it’s a collection of compelling imagery that overloads the senses as the image of Vader in has classic suit slowly rises into the frame. My single gripe is the weird cut of the Imperial March at the end, specifically the final note. But that merely knocks this out of the top spot…
1. The Force Awakens final trailer
I don’t even know where to begin with this … so I’ll start from the beginning! The trailer begins by introducing us to the three primary players of the new trilogy, a necessary step given how little we knew of each to this point. But it did it not by stupid voiceover or by that tired trope of someone explaining to the viewer what each character brings to the table, but instead by each character delivering a line that reveals something about each of them. This is done so effectively you barely need to know anything else about any of them; you get their characters instantly. The tension builds and the trailer explodes into the Han and Leia theme — one of my absolute favorite themes in all of Star Wars – as we see the Falcon and then Han appear. Han narrates beautifully over a rising crescendo of what has now morphed into Luke’s theme. As he speaks of the dark side and the jedi, the viewer is reminded of the previous teaser, and it’s that theme of yin and yang that weighs heavily over everything. Maz brings it all home with her “The Force is calling to you” line. Perfect.
Bonus Track: I’ll depart with the “music video” for Revenge of the Sith’s “Battle of the Heroes,” which is essentially a 4-minute preview of the film. This was released with the ROTS soundtrack as a part of the DVD “Star Wars: A Musical Journey.” What’s cool about it is it’s the framework for Star Wars in Concert, so if you’ve experienced that, this video would be some nice nostalgia. If you haven’t, it’s probably something neat you’d like to see. This isn’t a trailer, per se, but it may as well be. And it’s well worth a watch.